What could bring Adam Lanza, a 20-year-old shy man, to act like a monster and then kill himself? Perhaps the side effects of psychiatric medications played a role.
A gunning down of 20 children, a school principal, a school psychologist, four other adults and the murderer’s own mother occurred on Friday, December 14. This is a horrendous crime against humanity. Inhumane.
On December 16, Mark and Louise Tambascio, friends of the shooter’s mother, Nancy Lanza, reported on 60 Minutes that Adam was on medication for psychological problems. They didn’t say what the medication was. It may well have been an anti-depressant, considering he had virtually no social life, was isolating himself and was being home-schooled by his mother.
Every year, reports Joseph Mercola, MD, 230 million prescriptions for antidepressants are filled, making them one of the most-prescribed drugs in the United States.
The repercussions? A review from the Citizen’s Commission on Human Rights International reveals there have been 124,320 Adverse Drug Reactions in connection with antidepressants that have been reported to the FDA’s Adverse Event Reporting System (MedWatch), between 2004 and 2011. About a quarter of these adverse reactions came from those aged 19-45. By the FDA’s own admission, only 1-10 percent of side effects are ever reported to the FDA, so the actual number of side effects occurring are most certainly higher than what is reported (multiply 31,000 by 10 or 100 for a more accurate picture and you get 310,000-3,100,000). Side effects listed include: suicidal ideation/behavior (completed suicides, suicide attempts), aggression, hallucinations, self-harm, thoughts of killing others, hostility, physical assault, homicide and violence-related behaviors.
Since 1982, 61 mass murders involving firearms have occurred throughout the country.
We didn’t have these kinds of school shootings before the proliferation of psychiatric medications. Dig deeply into these stories and you find that most of the murderers were taking psychiatric meds or withdrawing from them (a situation that can cause the same or worse violent impulses). Dr. David Healy, a British psychiatrist, believes psychiatric medications were involved in 90 percent of the school shootings. Healy is a founder of RxISK.org, an independent website for researching and reporting on the effects of prescription drugs.
The Columbine High School shooters were on psychiatric drugs at the time they shot their classmates in 1999. According to the New York Times, at Virginia Tech—where 32 were murdered in 2007—authorities found “prescription medications related to the treatment of psychological problems had been found among Mr. Cho’s effects.” Kip Kinkel was withdrawing from Prozac and had been prescribed Ritalin when he murdered his mother and stepfather and then shot 22 classmates, killing two, in 1998.
An 11-minute film on YouTube dramatically recounts even more stories of the suicides and killings as well as interviews with psychiatrists who speak about FDA approved meds and their connection to violence. It is not a secret.
Everywhere, there is evidence of a worsening of the mental health of children and teenagers. In 2001, the US surgeon general, David Satcher, declared the deteriorating mental health of the nation’s children constituted “a health crisis.” Soon after, reports Robert Whitaker, colleges were suddenly wondering who so many of their students were suffering manic episodes or behaving in disturbed ways. A 2007 survey discovered that one in six college students had deliberately “cut or burned self” in the prior year.
On March 22, 2004 the FDA issued a Public Health Advisory that cautioned about the risks associated with the new generation of antidepressants (Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Luvox, Celexa, Lexapro, Wellbutrin, Effexor, Serzone, and Remeron). The warning followed a public hearing at which dozens of family members of victims testified about suicide and violence committed by individuals taking these medications.
Despite the warnings, in 2008 the US Government Accountability Office reported that one in every 15 young adults 18-26 years old is now “seriously mentally ill.”
Add to these statistics the notion of the “spell-binding” effects of psychiatric medications. Dr. Peter Breggin, a Harvard-trained psychiatrist and former full-time consultant to the National Institutes of Mental Health, is writing extensively about this notion. Spell-binding prevents the person taking the drugs from understanding that his behavior and thinking is being dramatically changed by the drugs and leading him to severe deterioration of judgment and bizarre impulses. Some people on the drugs do things, including violent acts, which they would never have done if they had not been on the drugs, writes Breggin. This could explain how a shy young man could turn into a monster.
Adam’s family physician may well have been treating for depression, as it must have been obvious that he was painfully shy and isolating himself. Months before the murders, Adam was also beginning to deliberately burn his own body with a lighter, reported a friend of Nancy Lanza to the New York Daily News. A week before the killing, Nancy Lanza told this friend, “I think I am losing him.” Was Adam also given anti-psychotics by the family doc to stop his self-destructive behavior?
General practitioners do more prescribing of psych meds than psychiatrists—even though they often don’t have the training in psychiatry to effectively manage some of the problems that can arise. Here’s why:
- We learn about drugs through TV ads and then ask our family docs to provide them.
- People don’t like the stigma attached to seeing a psychiatrist.
- Psychiatrists are expensive.
- Young people, like Adam, often prefer not to disclose their inner lives and choose to just take drugs instead.
Any reporter seeking to discover what medications Adam Lanza was taking may find that they cannot get this information; it is protected by patient privilege. If we never see a reference to the drugs prescribed to the shooter, it will be hard to ascertain what impact psychiatric medications had on the massacre on December 14.
Strange, isn’t it, that we check our athletes for “performance enhancement drugs” and youngsters-at-risk, even employees, for “recreational drugs” through blood or urine tests. The results are quickly available. Days have gone by since Adam’s autopsy, December 16. Why don’t we know if Adam’s blood revealed drug use?
News agencies are reluctant to report the connection between psych meds and violence. This is the reason most of us remain ignorant of the connection.
Who stands to gain by withholding this info? The drug manufacturers.
Bad press would detract from what Joseph Mercola, MD, reports is their 80 billion dollar per year profits. Many of these companies have been accused of faulty research and dishonest reporting about the negative side effects of psychiatric medications, especially the impact of combining the drugs together, e.g. an anti-depressant with an anti-psychotic and an anti-anxiety medication taken at different times of the day to manage symptoms and allow for sleep.
Anatomy of an Epidemic, a book that won Robert Whitaker the top prize for investigative journalism in 2010, tells the whole terrible story of how this situation has led to more people and children on disability, straining our welfare system, and proving that more psych meds do not lead to less people on disability.
A November 2011 article in the Wall Street Journal, “Psychiatric Drug Use Spreads,” reports that one in every five American adults is now taking one or more psychiatric drugs according to data collected by pharmacists in a study of two million people. It reported that the use of psychiatric drugs among adults grew 22 percent from 2001 and 2010. Data further reveals that 10 percent of men and 21 percent of adult women now use antidepressants.
It becomes increasingly more important to be aware of the risks of taking these drugs and other options for mental wellness that are less risky and less harmful.
It could well be that Adam Lanza might never have violently gunned down 20 children, six adults, his own mother and himself if he had been given adequate compassionate care by mental health professionals and little or no psychiatric drugs.
We must think deeply together about these facts related to psychiatric medication and act in ways to prevent more killings, giving those with mental disturbance the humane care they need. Considering a very cautious use of psychiatric drugs is an important step. Making sure we know about and manage the effects of psychiatric drugs—and their potential of causing violence—is another step. Making sure people who are emotionally disturbed do not have access to guns is another important step. All three are necessary.
This just might be the answer to ending the massacres…as well as lead us to more humane treatment of those with mental disturbances.
Emma Bragdon, PhD is the author of six books offering new options for diagnosing and treating mental disturbances. Her most recent book, “Resources for Extraordinary Healing: Schizophrenia, Bipolar and Other Serious Mental Illnesses” illumines mental health care in the USA and suggests an integrative form of treatment for body, mind and spirit that takes a cautious approach to all psychiatric drugs. www.EmmaBragdon.com
Ed: Kevin Macku